Anytime I play basketball with my uncles (one is 41 the other 44), they always end up having to ice something hours later. And then my aunts yell at them for trying to “keep up with” a 24-year-old on the court. It’s true, they do. They’re in pretty decent shape, but I can tell that they move in ways they shouldn’t be moving because they don’t want to lose face in front of their younger (and devastatingly handsome) nephew.
I think that’s pretty common with older men. I see them at the gym too, trying to keep up and do what they did 20 years earlier. But the truth is, we age. I know it’s easy for me to say that because I’m young right now (and devastatingly handsome). But I can’t do things I did when I was 10 and I imagine when I’m 35 I won’t be able to do some of the things I do now. It’s just a part of aging.
But to ignore this fact and push your body too hard is an invitation to injury, and maybe one you never really recover from. Better to exercise smart.
So I did some research and talked to a trainer I know well at my gym to get some solid information on how guys over the age of 40 should be exercising. Here’s what I learned:
My Uncle Sean, the 41-year-old, is in FAR better shape than a lot of other guys his age who never exercise and eat pizza and fast food every day. The guy takes good care of himself. You’ve got to know yourself and be honest with yourself about your particular fitness level. You may be able to do more or maybe less than someone else your age. It’s important to be honest with your fitness level and goals so you can workout the right way.
Focus on Building Muscle
As we age, we lose muscle. The scientific term is sarcopenia. But how much you lose and when you actually start losing it is totally up to you. If you haven’t spent much time in the gym the past decade and you are 40 or older, there is a very good chance you have lost some muscle tone. Focus your efforts on building muscle and then hit the gym a few times each week to keep that muscle.
Pay Attention to Pain
The days of “no pain – no gain” are behind you once you hit 40. Pain is something that needs to be monitored and addressed. If you feel a pain while working out, stop and get some advice from a trainer who can tell you what you may be doing wrong. It may be that you haven’t lifted in 10 years and are trying with weights that are too much for you right now. Slow down, work up to heavier weights slowly, and get some help on your form so you don’t torque something.
Train Smarter Not Harder
A guy in his 40s or 50s won’t be able to recover as quickly as a guy in his 20s or 30s. It makes much more sense to workout more often but with less intensity. If you can’t recover fully from a workout, what good are you really doing your body?
Focus on Real-World Movements
Working your body in your later years is not just about looking better, it’s about being able to stay active and move without injury. My Uncle threw his back out just by lifting a big bag of dog food out of the car. These are the kinds of injuries that you don’t want to happen.
For this reason, trainers will help their older clients focus on workouts that are built around compound, multi-joint exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, presses, and rows, because they mimic real-life activities. It doesn’t mean you can’t do any curls or flies, just don’t focus on isolation exercises.
Respect Your Joints
You may have run 3 miles a day back in the day, but that doesn’t mean you have to do it now. If you wake up with achy joints, don’t force them to do something they don’t want to do or shouldn’t do. Exercise is great for joint health, but look for aerobic exercises that are gentle on joints like swimming, biking and rowing.
I love my uncles and want to see them age well and stay in great shape. But I don’t want them to push it when it causes them pain or injury. There is no reason you can’t be in the greatest shape of your life and look fantastic in your 40s, 50s and even 60s and beyond. But HOW you go about getting there is the key. Be smart about it.
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